From the inside of the Shinkansen, the Japanese lightning-fast bullet train, it might not feel like you're traveling at speeds of 200 mph. But from the outside, some might argue that it looks like you're going even faster. If you blink, you might miss the Shinkansen, but even with eyes wide open, it's just a flash of silver metal zooming past you. That image — a futuristic, spaceship-like body shooting through the streets of Tokyo — is what inspired Nike and footwear designer Christian Tresser to create the Air Max 97 Original sneaker over 20 years ago.
The Air Max 97 Original was not a subtle Adidas Ultra Boost Femme sneaker. It was flashy, chunky, and unorthodox — all elements that reflected the "maximalist" aesthetic that defined the decade. It was meant to stand out — just like Nike Air Pegasus 83 Donna the silver bullet train (as well as a silver mountain bike, noted Tresser in a 2017 Instagram post), with its reflective piping that beamed in the light. Instead of straight lines, there were wavy ones, intended to mimic the radiating ripple effect of a drop of water.
It was an extremely innovative shoe that some would argue was ahead of its time, because even beyond the colors and the shapes, the sneaker's features also seemed like they were from the future. It was the first shoe to use a full-length, dual-pressurized air bag, which meant that it boasted full-length air across the bottom of the shoe, unlike sneakers before that only had "air" in the heel. It also had Adidas Superstar Dames a "hidden" lacing system where the shoelace loops were concealed. It might not seem impressive now, but in the late '90s, it was a big deal.
While the shoe Nike Air Max 90 Femme undoubtedly made a splash when it launched in the United States — in New York, the shoe dominated the hip-hop, dance, and arts scene — the Air Max 97 Original also experienced worldwide fame. Across the pond, the Spice Girls' Melanie Chisholm, more famously known as Sporty Spice, was known to rock the sneaker with her color-coordinated athletic outfits. However, the sneaker received its greatest reception in Italy. To Nike, that kind of made sense — why wouldn't a country whose identity is deeply rooted in art, culture, and innovation appreciate such an imaginative shoe? "After its 1997 introduction, the shoe became an unofficial part of Italy’s wardrobe when a countrywide Adidas Ultra Boost Dámské craze for 'Le Silver' blossomed," Nike described in an article about Italy's obsession with the sneaker.
In 2017, the Air Max 97 turned 20, and as Nike does, they Nike Air Max 90 Mujer decided to celebrate with a reissue. Nike re-released the original sneaker, first in Italy (with Italian flag-colored heel and pull tabs), then around Europe, and finally in the United States with a slew of new colorways and an updated design. The Nike Air Max Ultra was lighter and a little more comfortable to wear, but maintained the original sneaker's main design elements, according to Dylan Raasch, Nike Senior Sportswear Design Director.
“The Air Max 97 is an icon and is so beloved that we’re very careful in honoring the OG and understanding the balance of its design," Raasch shares over email. "As we modernize a shoe, we’re making sure we celebrate the original lines Nike Internationalist Femme and maintain what is iconic about the OG."
Since then, the Air Max 97, both old and new, have probably flooded your social media feeds. You've likely seen Nike Air Pegasus 83 Damen many of your favorite bloggers wearing it in their #OOTDs or in street style photos during Fashion week. It's no longer just a running shoe (yes, it was originally intended to be a running shoe) or a sneaker beloved solely by the Milanese.